If aliens ever land on Earth, take them to Adrian Belew – there’s a good chance his guitar speaks their language.
Just ask the 300 Earthlings gathered inside the Narrows Arts Center for a close encounter of the trio kind. They’ll testify that Belew uses his six-string instrument to create wholly extraterrestrial textures and sounds. Yet the first track of the night, The Momur, is a reminder that Belew’s best songs are all too human. Named after his young daughter’s word for Monster, its darkly humorous lyrics are about a marital fight. More than three decades after its appearance on Belew’s debut album, it remains an invigorating blend of punk venom and prog virtuosity.
Soon after, Belew sings a pair of tunes about wildlife poachers in Africa. Men In Helicopters and The Lone Rhinoceros make a strong case for Belew’s underrated talents as a pop song writer.
The guitarist and his bandmates – Julie Slick (bass) and Tobias Ralph (drums) – are also members of The Crimson ProjeKCt. Their renditions of King Crimson classics such as Dinosaur, Elephant Talk, Heartbeat and Three Of A Perfect Pair elicit cheers from the audience. They’re all too aware that King Crimson may never perform these songs again now that Belew has been decommissioned from that band’s line-up.
Freed of Robert Fripp’s discipline, these off-the-leash pieces sound more thrillingly brazen and ferocious than before. Alas, Belew only performs snippets of each. Frame By Frame, for instance, is less than two minutes long. Tonight’s setlist is mostly a medley of précis highlights from the guitarist’s career.
Despite the problematic pacing of the set, these virtuosos are exciting to watch. Ralph’s drum fills in Ampersand are like lightning strikes, while Slick matches Belew during the fiendishly fast ascending and descending riff of e. But it’s Belew who enthralls. He punches the strings of his guitar during Big Electric Cat and amid the epic jam of Beat Box Guitar, tests the limits of the manufacturer’s warranty on the tremolo arm. Let’s coin a term to describe the show: Mind-Belewing.